Alan Holland runs with the wind at the MotorcycleLive Show at the NEC and checks out the machinery straight from the crate.
I was in the midst of an army of elves, witches, fairies and robots- all mingling with earnest middle-aged men in flannel and tweed.
Definitely a strange crew as I entered the NEC this weekend. Then it hit me: they were going to either the neighbouring Comic convention or the Model Train bash. I, on the other hand, was heading for the annual Motorcycle Live show.
It was a pilgrimage. In 1971, having worked through a summer holiday, I purchased my first motorcycle, pulled on a helmet and set off. For the first time in my life, I enjoyed complete privacy and liberty. For the next 47 years I have never been without a bike.
The industry has had its rocky moments. In 1962 Honda imported a motorcycle which held a mirror up to those marques and which none took seriously. Other Japanese machines followed. So, by 1975 British large-scale motorcycle manufacturing had ceased to exist.
Then a curious thing happened. Motorcycling progressively changed from being cheap transport to being recreational, a hobby which combined the joy of the open road, the potential to visit far flung places and that most important sense of being a bit of a rebel. Someone who doesn’t run with the herd. Think Easy Rider.
At the NEC, I have never seen more varied machines on display. If motor manufacturers had brought as many cars as there were bikes at the show, they would cover the Isle of Wight.
More than 100,000 fans came through the doors. Eleven World Champions attended, every major manufacturer was there and dozens of new bikes were on display for the public to admire, sit on and be photographed with. Technicians and those world champions answered questions and…ahem… girls handed out brochures.
Within the world of motorcycling there are many subgroups each looking for bikes which fulfilled their own requirements. Some like to teeter around on machines that can almost climb trees, others to speed across deserts and some to emulate their heroes. Still more, myself included, like to travel to remote countries with everything needed for a fortnight stowed aboard.
So what caught my eye?
The best selling bike in the UK for the past several years has been the machine which Ewan MacGregor and Charlie Borman took on their Long Way Round across Russia and Long Way Down through Africa – the GS model BMW. The company showed the latest version of that bike, the R1250GS, and it’s a beauty. But if you want speed how about the supercharged Kawasaki HP2 which will do a true 200 mph straight out of the crate? Lunacy….
Small wonder then, that a new addition to the biking scene is an over-jacket full of airbags which inflate in mili-seconds as a rider flies off the bike.
There was a feast of wonderful machinery on display and all around the periphery smaller outfits promoted custom parts, luggage, clothing, helmets and holidays. And, by the way, not an elf nor model train in sight. This was the week for bike fans: a hundred thousand people fill Wembley – and a stadium or two besides. That’s a lot of folks.